One year ago today, an EF-5 tornado struck Joplin, Missouri, one of the most destructive tornados ever in the United States. This month’s Equal Justice at Work newsletter featured an article about two Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellows working in Joplin: Zach Tusinger and Jamie Rodriguez. Zach and Jamie both call Joplin home, and they’ve been working tirelessly to bring legal assistance to survivors in Joplin.
Helping rebuild the community takes a holistic approach: it’s more than building homes and repairing roads. It’s helping people understand and gain access to FEMA benefits, as well as settling landlord-tenant disputes involving illegal evictions. Zach and Jamie’s caseloads cover these direct results of the tornado, as well as some of the more insidious side-effects like domestic violence and fly-by-night contractors.
Another part of recovery is returning to a sense of “normal living,” and Jamie and Zach have helped their community with that as well. With their host organization, Legal Aide of Western Missouri, Zach and Jamie coordinated with the LEGO Group to have LEGO toys contributed to Joplin’s “Third Thursday,” a monthly art event in town. The theme last Thursday was “Rebuild Joplin,” and kids built models of structures from the town out of LEGOs. The evening was a hit among the Joplin residents and a great way to bring people together.
Yesterday President Obama returned to Joplin to deliver the commencement address at Joplin High School, and he set aside some time to meet with AmeriCorps members working to rebuild. Among those AmeriCorps members was Jamie who got to meet President Obama before his speech. In his address, the President noted that Joplin is not defined by the Tornado; “the story of Joplin is the story of what happened the next day. And the day after that. And all the days and weeks that followed.”
The White House wrote, “the Joplin community’s resilience and selflessness in the face of tragedy continues to inspire our nation,” and we at Equal Justice Works couldn’t agree more.